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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct14/08)
31 October 2014
Third World Network
 

WTO D-G consultations on TFA/food security, post-Bali work
Published in SUNS #7905 dated 30 October 2014
 
Geneva, 29 Oct (Kanaga Raja) -- The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been holding a number of closed-door consultations on the current impasse over the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA)/food security issue as well as on the future of the other Bali decisions and the post-Bali work programme.
 
At a General Council meeting held on 21 October, D-G Roberto Azevedo had announced that he would be holding a series of meetings in a range of different configurations beginning 22 October, and that a Heads of Delegation (HOD) meeting had also been planned for 31 October.
 
At a formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on 16 October, the D-G had outlined the content of the discussions where he had suggested four questions for the members to try to answer: What should we do with the decisions on Trade Facilitation and public stockholding? What should we do with the other Bali decisions, including the LDC package? How should we respond to the Ministerial mandate to develop a work program on the post-Bali agenda? And how do we see the future of the negotiating pillar of the WTO? (See SUNS #7900 dated 23 October 2014).
 
According to a report in the Washington Trade Daily (WTD), Azevedo had held separate closed-door meetings over the last two days with representatives of the African Group, the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific countries) Group, and the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group.
 
According to the WTD report, at these meetings, all three groupings stressed on the need to address the outstanding Bali issues in agriculture and development while a solution to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes is worked out by India and the United States.
 
The three groups rejected the notion of a possible plurilateral agreement on Trade Facilitation in the absence of an immediate resolution of the public stockholding issue, the WTD report said.
 
According to the WTD report, the African Group and the LDCs voiced preference for an acceleration of the work on the remaining Bali issues, which they said needed to be converted into binding agreements.
 
They strongly disapproved of the stand by some members in stalling the regular work on the other Bali and Doha issues until the TFA protocol is adopted, said the WTD report.
 
At the formal TNC meeting on 16 October, developing countries voiced opposition to engaging in plurilaterals, and stressed instead on the principles of transparency and inclusiveness.
 
India had told that meeting that it believes that "one should abjure the temptation of seeking alternative approaches without assessing carefully the systemic implications of rearranging our founding value system."
 
India also expressed disappointment with the position of some members that no engagement is possible on the development of a post-Bali Work Programme till "we address the issue of Trade Facilitation implementation", adding that it sees the Work Programme as being on a separate track.
 
At that same meeting, the African Group highlighted that there is a new narrative emerging that seems to be pointing towards plurilateralisation of the subsequent WTO agreements. It recalled the declarations of various African Ministerial Conferences which patently took a stand against plurilateral approaches to negotiations.
 
"This remains valid today," it said.
 
The LDCs were of the view that plurilaterals "are isolationist in nature and they undermine multilateralism."
 
Also speaking at that TNC meeting, the ACP had stressed the urgency in preparing the post-Bali work programme to conclude the remaining issues in the Doha Development Agenda. (See SUNS #7897 dated 20 October 2014.)
 
Meanwhile, a separate WTD report cited three possible scenarios emerging in a closed-door small-group consultation held earlier by the D-G.
 
According to this WTD report, in a closed-door meeting with some dozen countries, which included trade envoys from Ukraine, Qatar, Switzerland and several Caribbean and South American countries, three possible scenarios had been suggested by the D-G.
 
The WTD report said that one scenario is a negotiated plurilateral agreement on Trade Facilitation by some countries if there is no quick resolution over the public stockholding programmes for food security purposes.
 
According to the WTD report, the D-G suggested that if a plurilateral TF agreement is concluded outside the WTO then WTO rules would not apply to such an agreement.
 
(In a subsequent report, WTD cited a WTO official as clarifying that the three scenarios discussed in the closed-door meetings were not the D-G's own, but were suggested by a number of members in those discussions.)
 
In the second scenario, said the WTD, members would continue work on the remaining issues in the Bali package as well as in the regular WTO committee meetings while a solution is found on the public stockholding issue.
 
According to the WTD report, several members have already rejected that approach, saying that there cannot be work as usual in the WTO until the TFA protocol is adopted.
 
The third scenario is a continuation of the consultations for a solution to the public stockholding issue, with the recognition that there would be little time left in the year to finalise a full post-Bali work programme, said the WTD.
 
According to the WTD, most of the participants sought more time to contemplate the options, with some stating their total opposition to any form of plurilateral agreement. Many insisted that work in all areas continue regardless of the delay in finding a solution to the standoff, it added.
 
The WTD cited one developing country envoy as saying that work in the WTO regular committees and on the Bali issues must continue, and that they should not be held hostage to the TFA/food security stalemate.
 
Veteran trade analyst and Editor Emeritus of the SUNS, Chakravarthi Raghavan, in a comment to SUNS, said a plurilateral negotiation (for an agreement) outside the WTO in any area of trade already covered by existing WTO agreements or under negotiation in the WTO would be a violation of the WTO Treaty.
 
Such a plurilateral accord on TF would be violative of Art. II: 1 of the WTO Agreement, and the first sentence of Art. III: 2.
 
Moreover, he said, to the extent that such a TF accord purports to enable better conditions of treatment on tariff or non-tariff matters for its members, not available for non-members of the plurilateral TFA, in relation to the GATT Articles V, VII or VIII or any of the WTO agreements in Annex IA, will be violative of the fundamental WTO and GATT MFN principle and can be successfully challenged in a dispute settlement proceeding.
 
It would be immaterial whether such treatment is provided under any bilateral or plurilateral accord, inside or outside the WTO, or is de facto or de jure.
 
And considering the claims of the TF proponents that their existing rules and practices already conform to the TF accord, it is not even clear what such a TF accord will achieve, unless the major markets for goods trade are parties to such an agreement and change their rules and practices, he said.
 
When this idea was initially floated earlier this year for the TF accord to be concluded and made effective without India, the New Zealand Trade Minister, Tim Groser, in a comment to the FT, had dismissed it summarily.
 
The airing of such views, inside or outside the WTO, and in media only appears to be part of an effort to panic other members to yield to the US and its demands, even as the US merrily goes around disregarding even existing rules in existing agreements, Raghavan said.
 
The latest example is the reported accord between the US and Mexico, purportedly to settle anti-dumping investigations over sugar, requiring Mexico to "voluntarily" agree not to export more than 50 percent of its sugar production and to export even this quantity in a modulated way over a period.
 
Such an accord is prohibited and violative of Art. I (b) and its Footnotes 3 and 4 of the WTO's Safeguards Agreement, he said.
 
While a multilateral trade agreement and rules and multilateral negotiations are always to be preferred, and are ‘more efficient' than any other trade agreement, there is only one thing worse, namely, multilateral rules that everyone abides by except the powerful, he added. +

 


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